Author's note- this is written around a novel about Red Ronin. I have posted five, one for each prompt, as an ambitious attempt to support the big anniversary of Reedsy. They all follow separate characters, but I recommend reading "Devil Take the Hindmost" last because it has the largest cast, several of whom are introduced earlier. .
Devil Take the Hindmost
You're waiting to see Kentaro. He's so handsome and everything. Everyone talks about how he's polite to everyone, but you can tell it's different with you. You are the Golden Hind and a match for his Red Ronin. Code names, costumes, styles, they all accent the other. You're the perfect match. You want to carve your names, Belinda loves Kentaro, into a tree. You spot him as he leaves the gym.
Stepping up beside him, I say, “I wondered where you got to. Since you’re not in your class.”
“I’m a ronin. I don’t have any class.”
“Self-effacing. Not the man from last night.”
“What do you want?”
“Why are you teaching Emma? She’s no good in a fight.”
“And you are?” His gaze wanders over your attire, from the short skirt and net stockings, to the midriff exposing top, which is thin enough nipples show. “Only a distraction.”
Fury overrides all thoughts. You casually slap him. He rolls with it, but still slams into the wall, stunned. Your inhuman strength has overwhelmed him. “You don’t seem so tough to me.”
Trying to stomp him, he rolls out from under you, then is on his feet and down the hall, taunting, “You missed the chance to surprise me. Now you lose.”
Suddenly, you don't know what you're doing. Then ribbons wrap your arms. You fight them, but Ronin moves to strike you and you tense. The continually constricting ribbons seem to be made of steel, unyielding against your strength. Emma, the tailor, closes, ribbon spools in her hands, the slender fabric binding you. “Useless in a fight? Perhaps less useful when materials were weaker. Now? Even you cannot escape.”
“Why does golden Hind not lead?” Ronin's words tear my soul.
“Why do you think? She’s useless. All she can do is throw a punch and... Goodness, she left you with a horrible black eye. How did she strike you?”
“I said she could only distract. She slapped me, then tried to stomp.”
“Did nobody tell you her power is super-strength?” Emma looks down at your struggles. “All brawn, no brain, and you cannot defeat a two. How pathetic.”
“I’ll see you in prison for this.”
“For preventing you murdering Red Ronin? I rather-”
“What the fuck is going down here?” A thick-set middle aged man in a suit, with graying hair and mustache, strides toward the three of you, a hand reaching into his pocket.
“Director Wilder, how good to see you.” Emma beams. “Look at me. I caught-”
“They’re in it together, sir,” you call from the ground.
“Enough trouble Golden,” Ronin shouts you down. Then he glares at the director. “Did Jessica tell you what my instructor did? Is everyone here jealous of my skill?”
“What happened to your face?”
“Golden Hind surprised me.”
“That shouldn’t be possible.”
You lose track of the conversation. Everything is in a fog.
Kentaro, Emme and Director Wilder continue to argue. Then Jessica arrives, running around the corner, with her skirt hiked high on her thighs. When she arrives, she stops, panting. You belatedly notice her stocking feet and disarrayed hair. She wags a finger at the group. Ronin executes a perfect, courtly bow, the sort of romantic gesture which makes you swoon. That distracts everyone long enough for Jessica to regain her breath. “I saw the fight. Golden Hind waited to intercept Ronin. She launched an unprovoked attack using lethal force. I came to stop it.”
“When did you install video recording inside?” the director asks.
“When she began to suspect a spy,” Ronin answers. “Obviously.”
“Ronin.” Jessica glares at you, then turns to Emma. “Release Belinda.”
Standing, words tumble uncontrolled from your mouth. “He doesn’t deserve to lead. He wants others to do all the work while he takes all the glory.”
“You mean like on Thursday?” Emma asks. “You can correct me, but Red Ronin saved the lives of your team. Firewalker may have escaped unscathed, but Titan carried you and Green Gorgon to safety. When all seemed lost, Red Ronin dropped like the hand of God. In seconds, he disabled most of the grunt firepower and focused the attention of all the enemy heroes away from the police. After the fighting ended, with the capture of two villains, Ronin refused to speak with the press. Hardly fits the glory hound you claim him to be, darling.”
“Or the useless, outdated swordsman which Larson claims,” Jessica states it flatly, but her eyes flash with irritation.
“He seems to lack something in leadership potential if his teammates attack him. He already drove off Dark Shadow.” Wilder wags his finger in front of Jessica’s face. “He killed our strongest hero, drove off our most versatile one, and now wants to remove a third.”
“Something is wrong.” Ronin turns to examine you. “Yesterday, she mentioned her parents. We talked and she seemed fine. What changed?”
“So now you’re Charlie Chan?” Wilder dismisses Ronin. “Bruce Lee’s not enough.”
“I have found Ronin very perceptive,” Emma says. “When we all spoke the other night, I thought Golden Hind would hit on you, not hit you.”
“That seems to be his effect on the ladies,” Jessica adds. “Kelly, Grace and Camilla all have their sights set on him. What about you Emma?”
“I am realistic about my chances.” She glances at you, then Jessica. “Still, he is adorable. So noble, stoic and handsome. What am I forgetting Kentaro?”
“That I’m well versed in the Kama Sutra.”
“Definitely a keeper.”
“Would you two stop it,” Jessica admonishes. “We need Kentaro. He’s driving the others to improve. Even our support staff.”
“Specialization is required for efficiency,” Wilder states. “Well established fact.”
“All skills are one skill.” Ronin with more of his amazing philosophy. No wonder you love him. “The fingers which are supple from practicing a craft are also strong for gripping a weapon. No two battles are the same. You must be flexible in your approach and the best way to achieve that is to study broadly. We knew that centuries ago. I am astonished that someone of your learning and special expertise has not heard the same.”
“This is why I won’t let you lead.” Wilder’s face reddens. Now he shows his fury when earlier he hid his emotions. “You think outdated views are right because you don’t understand. I’m rejecting your appeal Jess. You might have fallen under his spell, but I haven’t. He’s the same menace who killed Thunderclap. If his teacher doesn’t have good things to say about him in three weeks, he goes to prison for murder.”
Wilder storms off, leaving you and the others to sort things out. Ronin takes charge. “Change my teacher. Remove Larson. Take direct responsibility. Then give me a standardized test. Give me one today. Compare it with others.”
“Darling, compare it with Jeff Larson. Outperform him and prove envy eats at him.”
“You two,” Jessica begins, then stops and turns to you. “Explain yourself. No whining.”
“I don’t know. It just got to me. He was so amazeballs in that fight, but then he’s trying to...”
“Darling, you want to date him. Admit it.”
“Everyone does Emma. Except Jolly, who’s straight as they come, everyone on the team and the main support staff. Hell, even the lower rank women are trying to land him.”
Ronin asks, “Can your powers make someone act against themselves?”
“Long ago there was one, The Specter,” Emma says. “We never caught him. Or her. Always acted from the shadows. Now? I am not so sure.”
“Why would they control me, when Ken is so dangerous? I mean, wait until he’s in full kit and wham, nothing can stop him.”
“They can’t,” Jessica answers. “His mind is too strong.”
“Meaning mine is weak.” You frown. This is the worst thing ever.
“Something we can fix.” Ronin puts a hand on your shoulder, a signal of his true feelings. “As soon as I am allowed, I will begin teaching classes on mental discipline.”
Emma takes you by the elbow, the tiny Chinese tailor leading you like a child. You wonder how the Specter got to you. How they twisted your desire into anger. All you wanted as a date, a chance.
"It's always difficult," Emma says. "To love someone who does not return your affection."
"It's not like that."
"Of course not. You are a lesbian."
The words confuse you. Are you a lesbian? You decide the issue. "I'm not. And you know it."
"Excellent. The specter is not with you. He just left some suggestions and you followed them."
"How do we know he didn't leave more?" You dread the though of being a walking time-bomb. Set to go off at the worst moment.
"Darling, even the Specter has limits." Emma is always so reassuring. "He can leave a single thought in your head. With you, it was attack Kentaro is he failed to return your affection."
"But what did he gain?"
"First he had the chance to eliminate a new and powerful agent." Emma stops outside her room, where she makes all the costumes. "Second, he might have hoped you would perish in the attempt. Finally, it causes dissent. Perhaps not that last. Ronin is magnificent. Part of what attracts you, like a schoolgirl's first crush."
"I'm never going to get an answer, will I?"
"Don't sell yourself short Darling. The race belongs to the steady, not the swift."
"Unless it's a sprint."
"Life is not a sprint darling." Emma waves you back. "Now go. Decide who you met who was secretly the Specter. Take that information to Ronin and impress him."
You go to your room and think back to the two times since Ronin joined the team that you went out for something besides duty. Each time it was drinks and dancing, hoping to find a lucky guy for a night or two. Sitting at your desk, looking through your selfie files, you work until you drop your head on the keyboard, sleeping from sheer exhaustion.
The shadow moving in the corner of the room wakes you. You sit up startled. Shame at the results from your selfish actions washes through you. The urge to light up a cigarette is overwhelming. The shadow slinks along, trying to fool your eyes, to get close enough to kill. Then, it swoops close, its impossibly pale green eyes stop inches from your face, the pupils ringed with a tiny silver of yellow.
Terror freezes your limbs, negating your strength. The eyes penetrate you, piercing all your defenses, leaving you vulnerable, naked to the world. A breath escapes, then you gulp in anticipation of the upcoming attack. A breathy baritone voice says, "You must go back. Go back to your anger. Go back."
You wake when you slip to the floor, falling out of the chair and onto the carpet. The image of the eyes still vivid in your memory. Then you know. That was The Specter. He came to you in the night, so you are again primed for murder.
Murdering Kentaro is unimaginable. You love him. He turned you down. Mocked you. Hatred is all that can be left. The shower beckons. The ritual of cleaning refreshes and you are ready to face the day. As you head out, you meet Doctor Garcia. "Camilla, how nice to see you."
"You were running late this morning, so I wanted to check your condition."
"I'm fine. There's no need to worry."
Her eyes look like rings of green flame. She wants to hurt you. To take Kentaro from you.
"I thought you were safe, darling" Emma is there, with Jolly in front of her. "How did he get to you again?"
The eyes are everywhere. You leap, but Jolly is between you and the others and you cannot do anything. He's just too damn fast. Then the damn ribbons start grappling with you. Emma is with Kentaro, that's why she protects him. He has a grandma fetish. It's why he doesn't look at you. The voices come clearly, then indistinctly as they warp you up and load you on a gurney for transport somewhere. They have not heard the end of Golden Hind.
"Do you think she will recover?" Emma asks.
"Let me see," Doctor Garcia says. A hand touches your face, away from the ribbons covering your eyes. Warmth washes over you, the friendly feel of Camilla's healing touch. "She's running a fever. And she's violent. I think something is still wrong, but I can't do anything."
"We need a specialist," Jolly says. "I got over my mad at Ken. He's not actually a bad guy. Hell, if he helps me work past the pain, I can be a hero."
"Perhaps that is the cure darling. Have Ken giver her a kiss." Emma makes a wonderful suggestion. You love Ken. He mocked you. You hate Ken, but the thought of kissing him brings relief from the horrible eyes.
"Doc, What's wrong with me?" The pain is real. The eyes hover in the distance. You can still feel them, waiting in the shadows to pounce again.
"I don't know. You seemed fine yesterday, but when I came to check on you today, the monitor said you destroyed the chair at your desk. I wanted to keep whatever this is off the record, so I brought Emma and Jolly instead of Jessica."
"Can I kiss Kentaro?" You yearn for that release, that kiss.
"Someone got into the headquarters. Someone able to deceive the cameras."
"It's director Wilder." Jessica's voice. "He stayed over last night and used a room just under Belinda's. He either is The Specter, or let him in. I sent Kentaro to take him."
"What will happen to me?" You worry they will blame you. Mock you like Kentaro did. You hate them all. "Why do I keep seeing eyes?"
"Emma?" Jolly asks. "Can you cure her?"
"You've always pined for her haven't you?" Emma asks. "What about you Belinda, would Jolly be a suitable romantic partner, or do you still wish the unobtainable. Ken only mocked you during the fight to take your concentration. It made him miserable because he's so attracted to you but thinks you would only toy with him."
"I would never do that." You want him so badly. Why did he have to spoil it? What would it cost to be nice to you.
"Because he thinks he is lowly. Just a mercenary to be used, then thrown away. It is the tale of his life. It is the truth of every wave man, to wander the ocean of Japan with nothing but their wits and skill to keep them alive. As handsome as he is, many women must have used him for their pleasure. Powerful women, who discarded him afterward like a used tissue."
"I feel like I'm going crazy." You feel tears wetting the ribbons which cover your eyes. "Can you help me?"
"We're trying," Camilla says. "I just need to hook you up to some monitors. If I can get a feel for what this power is doing, I might be able to cure it."
"I want to go back. I was just sitting at my desk when I fell asleep. Then the monster came."
"Induced psychosis," Jessica says. "That's somewhat rare, but we can have someone fly in within a day. You'll be out by tomorrow. Take care of her Camilla. We need her."
Jessica proves right. You have lunch in the infirmary, then someone comes and sits beside you in the middle of the afternoon. You fall asleep. When you wake a little bit later, Camilla has removed the restraints. She's sitting beside the bed. "Everything is fine. What they did to you is fixed now."
"Is The Specter that powerful? Emma said-"
"This was some sort of fallback. The work of Instigator, a criminal mastermind who manipulates people with their hopes and fears," Camilla says. "She went after you from the start. We recognized her from a henchman she uses who was in a selfie you took."
"And I wanted to find The Specter, so I did, but in a horrible way."
"Do you still want to kiss Kentaro"
"Who wouldn't? But it's not the same. I can feel the difference."
And you can. The dark shadows in the corners of your mind are gone. The whole mystery might never be solved, but at least you never betrayed your team. "Why do you think they went after me?"
"You were the strongest link they could break. Or so they thought."
"They should have known Golden Hind would be too quick on her feet."
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Looking forward to the day when Netflix options this series... :)
So am I.
I enjoyed each story. I'm so impressed that you did the five prompts and made them blend together so well. You inspire.
I loved the idea of doing five submissions around the same topic. It was quite fun to read all the different parts and tie together one whole story!
Okay, I'm a little late to the party, but I saw the title and couldn't not read it. Its a great story, I love the tying in to the different prompts, very clever. I'll try to read them all but with school I've been pretty busy. A couple things; "I got over my mad at Ken." I'm assuming you meant to say anger? Not a big deal, just figured I'd bring it to your attention. It's possible that I'm not catching the full effect of the story as I haven't read the other stories. However, the fight in the beginning was a little quick, it went fro...
Yeah, I had a big cast on this one because it's later on. And IIRC I was close to word limit on this. The primary purpose is to tell tales about supporting characters in my WIP. This is a trick to flesh them out- to make them have more personality in the novel about Ken.
That makes sense, and like I said I'll try and read the others later on!